How much is your stolen property worth? Who can say?

Theft happens. Even at a hotel with a sterling reputation, like Marriott.

But here’s the question Melvin Windham is faced with: When your property is taken from a room, who gets to determine its value? Do you? Does the hotel? Or does some third party, like an insurance company?

Here are the specifics of his case: Windham stayed at the Marriott Downtown Richardson in the Dallas suburbs recently.

The door to his room wouldn’t close, so Marriott sent a technician to fix it. He picks up the story from there:

When I returned back to my room after breakfast, my room door was again unlocked and when I took inventory of my personal things, I notice that the bag containing my CDs were missing.

I reported this matter to the front desk and no one ever called to check to see what happen until I got ready to check out when I bought up the matter again.

The front desk person went to get a manager and took approximately 20 minutes to locate a manager. Two managers from Marriott approached me and asked what happened. They had never been notified about the missing items.

Windham was apparently told he could file a formal report after he returned, but when he tried, Marriott went into radio silence. His calls weren’t returned, either.

That’s when he contacted me.

Behavior like that is very un-Marriott-like, so after I gathered all the facts, I contacted the hotel. It responded to Windham with its verdict.

Marriott offered him a flat $75 settlement for his missing CDs.

(By the way, my reading of Texas lodging statutes suggests that he’s only entitled to $50, so this is a generous offer, where the law is concerned.)

He’s unhappy with that offer, since it doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of his collection.

Ah, I know what you’re thinking – why not just go to iTunes and download the music there? Forget CDs!

Tell that to my uncle who has an extensive vinyl collection. It is what it is. Also, it’s kind of beside the point.

The bigger question raised by this is: Who gets to determine the value of a stolen item?

I get that question often, and people rarely agree on the answer. A CD collection could have a high sentimental value, but an insurance company or hotel might take a different view.

And then, of course, there’s the law, which might say none of that matters, and that the hotel owes a customer nothing. That certainly applies to this case.

One solution is to keep receipts or get the items you’re traveling with assessed by a professional. That seems like a lot of trouble, but if you’re going to take something like a cherished CD collection or stamp collection on the road with you, knowing exactly how much it would cost to replace it might make some sense.

The other thing you might consider: Know what your rights are under the state’s lodging statues, just in case something is taken from your room. You never know.

At any rate, Marriott has made its final offer, and given that Windham can’t conclusively prove the CDs are worth more than $75, this might not be the worst offer.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Vec14

    While I feel for the OP, this situation could have been avoided. If the
    door to his room wouldn’t close, why did he even accept it? I would
    have gone back to reception and asked for a different room, especially
    since I’d wonder when someone would actually fix it. Second, I wonder
    if the OP put everything out of sight. If I had something I was worried
    about, I would have either put it in the safe or taken it with me.

  • Raven_Altosk

    What happened to the “I was stupid and called instead of the hotel directly” case that was up at 3AM CST?

  • Christopher Elliott

    I spaced out. I pre-write these posts and then tell WordPress when to publish it. I had the wrong pub date on it — that’s tomorrow’s post. Sorry!

  • emanon256

    Why would someone bring a CD collection with them, and why would someone even steal CDs? Did this happen in the 80s?

    Aside form my snark, I am not a fan of the fact that hotels are not liable or have such limited liability. Thats why I protect and/or hide my items and don’t accept a broken room. But I wish I didn’t have to be so worried about it.

  • emanon256

    I am getting the abuse report message again (See attached) and I don’t even have the Yankee’s logo anymore. I must have a nemesis out there. Cool!

  • john4868

    @emanon256:disqus Did you get it right after you made an edit?

  • Raven_Altosk

    Not in the 80s, bro. We had mix tapes back then!

  • emanon256

    This time I did. I added a space between my paragraphs.

  • Christopher Elliott

    None of our moderators are reporting this. Maybe it’s a system issue?

  • emanon256

    Your right, I think I got my first CD player in ’94 or so. My memory has not been so good since the baby came. Darn lack of sleep.

  • BillCCC

    I am afraid that this fellow is probably out of luck unless he can prove how many CDs he had at the hotel. If the collection was valuable he shoudl have had an inventory. He also should not have waited until check out to bring this up again. He shoudl have insisted that someone come up to his room immediately.

  • john4868

    I’ve noticed that I get the same error if I edit an approved post until it’s approved again with the edit. Honestly I think its a verbiage issue and not someone flagging you. I’ll keep an eye on it.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I was just thinking that – “Thriller” was my first CD. 30 years ago. I could only play it at home, since CD technology was so new. Otherwise – yes – mix tapes! And I remember when those were pretty new . . .

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    They didn’t flag you yesterday, so this time it may genuinely have been a system error. I think your disguise is working.

  • marie3656

    Bringing a receipt for all valuable items would not only be a pain, but don’t you think it would also raise suspicions? “My CD collection is missing.” “Here’s $75”. “Actually, I have a 352 receipts showing that it’s worth $6,000”. Having the receipts handy surely would make the hotel think that it was a set up.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’ve seen this same “Comment hidden due to abuse reports” on a few posts this week where I didn’t think anything objectionable had been posted. Thought maybe someone had flagged the post, but I can’t find the flag icon anywhere, just some “share” icons for FB, Twitter and something else. This does look like a system error to me. Maybe the Webmaster can tackle this while he looks for whatever’s creating those pop-ups! (None today, BTW).

  • TonyA_says

    Question: What do you mean by flagging somebody. I do not see any symbol resembling a flag anywhere. Is it possible that we can inadvertently flag someone by hitting other key words or symbols? I am curious. Thanks.

  • NakinaAce

    You should also know that when you download from Itunes you are only getting a license to use the songs and that license only applies to the purchaser. Technically when you die the license expires so you can’t leave your favorite music to a loved one. This is important and I have just discovered it.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Travelling around with precious things like your personal CD collection is just dumb. You can’t expect a hotel to dork around with the value of your CDs that were stolen … for all they know you lost the things yourself. Even I can download my music into an ipod/MP3 for travel. If that disappears, all the music is on my computer to be accessed again.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Sometimes, our moderators will hold a comment until we have time to discuss it. If it’s incendiary, but doesn’t otherwise violate our standards, we might hold it for a while. But sometimes, the comment isn’t approved. We had a few of those during the breast-feeding dustup earlier this week.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I heard a kid in the airport refer to Nirvana as “classic rock.” Damn, I feel old.

  • technomage1

    That doesn’t surprise me in the least, considering the reaction the first column on the subject garnered. To be honest, I very nearly left the site over some of those comments. I’m glad the moderation system is now in place, even if it means since I’m in the Middle East I have to wait a bit for the mods to wake up to clear my comments.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Oh, I’ll *bet* you did! ¶
    I’m thinking back through the last 7 days and there was an exchange between @bodega3 and @Michael_K on the “Hey, Where’s the Rest of My Refund?” article. Two of @bodega3’s comments got hidden; I of course opened them right up to see what was so bad. Didn’t see anything bad, and posted a comment asking about why they were hidden. (At least, I *think* that’s the article where I first noticed hidden comments – it’s been a week, and I can remember when mix tapes were new. {grin})¶
    Anyways, I’ve noticed non-controversial comments being “hidden due to abuse” and thought maybe the author had gone back to edit the comment, as @emanon256:disqus had one.¶
    Oh, and I’m putting ASCII code in to show ends of paragraphs, since Disqus gave us down arrows and took away hard carriage returns for paragraph formatting.

  • Luke Fox

    You said he would not be entitled to more than $50 due to Texas statute on the matter. My understanding is that it may not apply here due to the door not shutting properly. “the loss or injury does not occur through the negligence or wrongdoing of the keeper or an employee of the hotel, apartment hotel, or boardinghouse.” Looks an awful lot like negligence to me.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Our moderator team is new and we’re still trying to find our way around Disqus 2012. But we are determined to make the comments more civil while keeping the discussion going. Thanks for sticking around.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You don’t need to physically have the receipts on your person. There are any number of online storage facilities where you can keep PDFs of your important documents ( Except Chris because for some inexplicable reason he hates PDFs)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    When your property is taken from a room, who gets to determine its value?

    Its always the same answer. The party with the superior bargaining power. It doesn’t matter what the loss is. The OP had little bargaining power for all the reasons that have been articulated.

    For the OP to get more money he needed to increase his bargaining power. There are many ways, some are of dubious ethics though. For example, at a higher end hotel like Marriott,politely letting the hotel know he will be filing a police report, “for insurance purposes” might have shaken loose a few dollars.

    Media can also help. A car dealership tried scamming my client out of a 10k promotion. One call to the local NBC affiliate took care of that.

  • mbods

    I wonder why he didn’t just call the police? THAT would have gotten the managements attention. It was, after all, a theft. I think Marriott dropped the ball if only from a customer service standpoint. Not a word mentioned about the person who “fixed the lock”, no one told the management, then an kind of cold response from the corporate office . Not good.

  • LFH0

    The Texas statute does not appear to apply in this case. Section 2155.052(a) states, “This section applies only to a hotel, apartment hotel, or boardinghouse keeper who . . . (2) keeps suitable locks or bolts on the guests’ sleeping room

    doors and proper fastenings on the transom and window of guest rooms.” In addition, section 2155.052(b), which would otherwise limit the hotel keeper’s liability, applies only if “(2) the loss or injury does not occur through the negligence or wrongdoing of the keeper or an employee of the hotel, apartment hotel, or boardinghouse. . . .”

    Here, the allegation is that there were not suitable locks or bolts on the guest room. The loss of the CD collection was due to the negligence of the hotel keeping in its lack of reasonable security through its failure to maintain the door locks. If these elements can be proven (probably not that difficult to do), then the hotel keeper does not get the benefit of having his or her liability limited. The guest should be able to collect damages equal to the full value of the CD collection.

  • Michael__K

    I just wanted to make it clear that I haven’t flagged anyone’s comment, other than some obvious robo-postings many months ago.

    I’ve experienced flakiness myself when editing comments. Sometimes I’ve seen — immediately after an edit — a message that the comment is hidden due to abuse reports (instead of the normal message that the edit must be moderated). But either way that seems to resolve itself (at least in my observation so far) presumably once the edit is approved.

    @TonyA_says:disqus: If you scroll all the way to the top right corner of any comment and mouseover that region, there is a down arrow you can select to reveal a “Flag as Inappropriate” button.

  • EdB

    Was a police report filled out? If not, why? The limitation in the statue does not apply as the theft was a result of negligence on the part of the hotel.

  • emanon256

    I got called old by my wife for accidentally calling my iPod a Walkman the other day.

  • StarKiller

    What do you mean by flagging somebody.

    On the upper right of your comment there is a little triangle that shows up when you hover your cursor. If you click on it a little popup comes up that says ‘flag as inappropriate’ You would have to click on that popup to flag a comment.

  • emanon256

    HAHAHA. Go Yankees! I think you are right.

  • bodega3

    When something used is lost, you don’t get new replacement value. There can be exceptions but for CD’s a high value would be rare. There is no way to know if $75 is a reasonable amount without knowing how many CD’s were taken and the actual name of each CD.

  • Kevin Mathews

    All claims and liability aside, Why would this guy leave anything in a room that wouldn’t lock at the time he left the room?
    Also, Given that he went to breakfast and came back to the room, does that mean he slept in the room all night with a door that wouldn’t close? I’m sorry, but I would have a really hard time sleeping knowing that the door that keeps everyone out of my hotel room wouldn’t close and lock…
    Leaving your stuff in a room that won’t close is basically akin to simply leaving your stuff out in the hallway…

  • EvilEmpryss

    This sounds to me more like negligence on the traveler’s part. He *knew* the door wouldn’t lock, but he left the room unsecured with his valuable collection in the room? Even knowing that a tech was coming to fix the door, any number of other people could have entered the room in the mean time. He should have requested another room or secured his valuables in the trunk of his car or with the hotel security. What happened was a crime, but one that could have been prevented with a little CYA.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Impossible to answer the poll without knowing how many CDs were lost. Sadly for the OP, the value of used CDs is incredibly low so even with insurance he’d never come close to getting back what he’d put into them.

    I also got a bit confused between the OP’s letter and the advice section. Chris mentions a “cherished CD collection” but the OP never says that. I think that reference was just used by Chris as an example? Honestly, I’m struggling to imagine why anyone would travel with a valuable CD collection. Jewel cases are pretty easy to damage when you’re hauling them around in a bag and they take up a ton of room. I can see taking a few CDs/DVDs with me on a trip, but never a large collection.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It’s not clear exactly what happened. It says the door wouldn’t close and they sent a technician. Sounds to me like the OP either left for breakfast while the tech was there or possibly they thought the problem had been resolved so he and the tech left at the same time.

    Frankly, I’d leave my room if I was headed for an appt and there was a hotel employee there. It’d be no different than leaving my room when a maid was present. I’d confirm with the tech that he’d be able to fix it or wouldn’t leave the place unattended, but the alternatives of either staying there until the job was completed or going through a room swap wouldn’t be appealing.
    As for staying in room that wouldn’t lock, it’s possible it was just the electronic outer lock that the key card operates not functioning. If that were the case, the manual dead bolt and chain inside the room would have worked fine.

  • Zod

    For $75 he can easily replace the CDs on the second hand market. *IF* we are talking about music CDs that is…

  • Zod

    Exactly. I have all of my receipts and documentation scanned and stored on a SharePoint server I have setup in my basement. Everything is instantly searchable and retrievable and backed up to multiple locations!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Didn’t think that you had done so – you’re pretty polite when you make comments, even when disagreeing. I just wanted to direct the Webmaster to an example of what @emanon256:disqus and I have noticed.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Shouldn’t read these while I’m eating. I nearly choked while laughing.

  • john4868

    @TonyA_says:disqus I’m pretty sure its a system issue and the verbiage that it uses when an approved comment is edited. There is a method to flag a comment (see below) but I don’t think that’s what happening. Instead, I think that the system sees / treats an edited comment that needs to be approved again the same way it does a comment that has been flagged. In short, the issue isn’t that someone flagged the message but the user edited the comment and its waiting to be approved by a moderator.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Im assuming that he had a CD case. They’re about 20 dollars and can hold 100 or so CD’s in a very compact case. No jewel cases needed

  • Daddydo

    I know of no hotel in the world that has a legal responsibility for theft. Even when you use a room safe, there are maximum liabilities stated for it’s use. Internationally, that number is usually $0.00. I teach my client the following and I live by this”if you cannot afford to loose it, if you do not have it on an insurance rider, leave it at home!” The hotel was just making a gesture of good will, not a payment for loss. My last question would be, who would ever leave their room to be repaired rather than just having the room changed?

  • Nigel Appleby

    If someone wants to travel with CD’s rather than an iPod, the simplest and best thing to do is to copy the CD’s and travel with copies. I have copies of mine in my car, so if it is broken into all the villain gets is a copy. I knew many people in the days of vynil albums who would record the the album onto tape, use the tape and only play the album to make another recording when required. That way sratches and other noises didn’t intrude into one’s listening pleasure.
    Now I feel old – vynil albums and tapes!

  • y_p_w

    What’s “vynil”? Is it similar to vinyl?

  • y_p_w

    Traveling with CDs in that kind of semi-flexible case is a bad idea. While CDs were touted as near indestructible and encoded for robust error-correction, they’re actually more delicate than one might think. Only one side is hard polycarbonate with some protection from destruction. If the reading side is scratched, it can often be buffed out with polishing compounds.

    The label side is actually a thin layer of sprayed-on flexible plastic. If you take a CD (I’ve done this with failed CD burning attempts) and take a sharp object to the label side, it will scratch off the actual recording surface, and no amount of error correction can make up for it. If you take a small object, you can actually see it move the recording surface.

    This is opposed to DVDs and Blu-Ray, which are made of the recording surface(s) between two layers of polycarbonate. It’s two layers regardless of whether or not it’s double sided.

    I do remember seeing some polypropylene CD cases. Those are considerably more durable than the brittle polystyrene plastic cases that most CDs come with. Their saving grace is that they’re cheap to replace.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The point being is that he probably didn’t have jewel cases if its his entire CD collection.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Is it really important? As a practical matter.

  • Nigel Appleby

    Same stuff – spelling mistake